Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably the kind of dog owner who knows the difference between what’s safe and not safe for your dog.
But there are some things about rock salt – and its safer cousins – that might surprise you.
When it comes to our dogs and winter, here’s something to ponder …
Why Do We Protect Our Cars But Not Dogs From Salt?
Think about what happens to it when you drive behind a salt truck in the winter. That rock salt will corrode the metal and paint of your car. So those of us who live in cold climates take our cars in every fall to spray on some goo that keeps the salt away from our precious cars.
But we let our dogs walk unprotected on the same roads (and sidewalks) we’re protecting our cars from.
Try this experiment at home:
Fill a zip lock bag with a few drops of water, add a tablespoon of rock salt and zip it up.
Now feel the bag.
You’ll feel that it gets hot. Now imagine how it feels between your dog’s toes.
Salt can get lodged in between your dog’s pads where it can heat up to around 170 degrees! That’s hot enough to cause burns. And the pain will cause your dog to lick his paws, which adds more moisture to his feet … and now the salt is on his lips and tongue too.
Rock salt can also irritate his gastrointestinal system … and even trigger seizures when eaten in large quantities (think about how much dogs lick their irritated paws after walking in salt).
So if you didn’t know before, then now you know that you should keep your dog away from salt whenever possible! And you should use safer alternatives if you’re looking to melt snow in your own yard.
But are those Pet Friendly alternatives safe?
Finding Paw Safe Products
With names like “Safe Paw,” “Safe-T-Pet” and “Ice Melt for Pets” those alternative products must be safe, right?
But you have to look at more than the name to know if an ice melt product is really safe. Here’s an example …
Ice melt products can say “Pet Friendly,” or “Safer for Pets/Paws” on the label even if it’s still just rock salt. Because rock salt has jagged edges, they can just round it off and that apparently earns them the right to say it’s safe for paws!
Well, rounded rock salt might be safer than jagged rock salt, but that’s not really the point (no pun intended) … it’s still not safe for your dog (or the planet)!
But there are some safer alternatives out there. Steven Vernik, Director of Operations at Gaia Enterprises Inc and creator of Safe Paw Ice Melter, shares some tips on finding the most pet friendly choices.
Before you buy, take the container off the shelf and look at the back label to see if there are any warnings. If you see something that says, ”Keep away from children”, the chances are high that it isn’t all that safe for your pet. If you see that it causes irritation to eyes, skin, etc., or that it’s harmful if swallowed, consider whether or not this product is truly safe or just a marketing ploy to get your money.
A good ice melter may carry a heftier price because the components that go into making a truly safe and good ice melter aren’t cheap. If you see a low price tag, you should be suspicious of what’s inside the bag. By mixing cheap chemicals as filler along with salt or other chlorides, manufacturers can say that their product is pet friendly or safer than rock salt when in reality, it isn’t much safer at all.
Here are the most common chemicals to be aware of when choosing dog friendly ice melters:
Salt is chloride based and this is the most dangerous form of ice melter. It’s also the cheapest because it’s mined from the earth and made into the shape you see, then packaged. Some examples of the many chlorides used are potassium chloride, sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride. All of them should be avoided.
Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA)
CMA is a relatively safe ice melter, except that it isn’t very effective and doesn’t last long. It’s therefore likely that if your product contains CMA, it’s mixed with salt and or other chemicals to boost its power. CMA is toxic and also extracts moisture from the surface, so be mindful of CMA products on wood decking, rubbers, plastics, etc. If you see CMA as an ingredient, you’ll want to know what else is in the product.
Urea is a pretty decent ice melter. It’s less toxic and less corrosive than chlorides. However, if it isn’t treated and modified, it’s somewhat toxic and is a pollutant (according to the EPA) because of its nitrates. Urea is also costly and expensive to make safe.
Modified Crystalline Carbonyl Diamide
This is a safe ingredient that acts like a sponge and has particulates that disrupt the hydrogen bonds.
Eco Safe Glycol
Glycols can be infused with components that power up its ice melting capabilities, including traction agents and special inhibitors to increase the safety of the product.
Any colorants used should ideally be food grade.
In summary, here are some things to consider when choosing dog friendly ice melters:
- Don’t look for a low cost product. The safe ice melt products use more expensive chemicals and are worth the extra expense.
- Look for a product without any warning labels on it. If a product is not safe for you or your children, it’s not safe for your pets.
- Look for a salt and chloride free product.
- Visit the manufacturer’s website and read about the ingredients, or do some online research.
Finally, even though you may be using a pet safe product, your neighbors and city may not be, so it’s always a good idea after walking your dog to immediately clean his paws with plenty of lukewarm water, then dry them. Some dogs take a while to get used to booties but they’re another solution to keep paws safe.